The Virginia Woolf literary trail provides a possible itinerary for a 6-day tour exploring the world of Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), the iconic writer at the centre of the Bloomsbury Group.
For guiding or organisational assistance please contact us.
Travelling through the south of England the trail visits all the key sites connected with Virginia and members of the Bloomsbury Group.
Start in London with an afternoon walk in Bloomsbury, exploring all the main London locations associated with the group, including:
- The British Museum, featured in Jacob's Room (stone lies solid...). The Reading room, described by Virginia Woolf in A Room Of One’s Own (1929) - ‘the vast dome … the huge, bald forehead which is so splendidly encircled by a band of famous names’. The Reading Room is no longer actively a reading room, as the British Library now has its own premises at St Pancras, however it now stands as the centrepiece of the Great Court, a magnificent open space and café at the centre of the Museum.
- Gordon Square, where many of the group, including Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, and Vanessa and Clive Bell, lived at various times.
- Tavistock, Fitzroy, Mecklenburgh and Bedford Squares
For details of the significance of each address, see Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury Locations
Visit Charleston Farmhouse and Monk’s House.
Charleston was the home of Vanessa Bell, who lived here with her fellow artist and lover Duncan Grant, the writer David Garnett, her sons and an assortment of animals from 1916.
The walls are still decorated with their murals and much of the original furniture remains. There are paintings and lithographs by Grant, Vanessa, Fry, Picasso, Derain, Walter Sickert, Nina Hamnett and others in the gallery.
Then on to Monk’s House, at Rodmell in East Sussex.
Leonard and Virginia Woolf moved to the house in 1919, and this is where Virginia Woolf worked on To The Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928) and The Waves (1931).
Virginia Woolf 's ashes are buried in the garden, which remains much as the Woolfs left it. Leonard lived here until his death in 1969.
Below: VW's writing desk in her writing shed in the garden.
Travel guide from London
Charleston and Monk's House are close by each other, near Lewes in West Sussex, and can be visited as a one day trip from London.
Charleston is open Wednesdays - Saturdays 1pm - 6pm, and on Sundays 1pm-5.30pm. Monk's House is open Wednesdays to Sundays 1pm to 5.30pm. However, check timings before making travel arrangements.
There is a regular train service from London Victoria Station to Lewes. The journey takes approx 1hr 10mins
Charleston is about 7 miles from Lewes. There is an occasional bus service Wednesdays to Fridays, but a taxi is probably a better bet so that you can visit both houses on the same day unhurried.
Taxis wait outside the station or you can google and make a reservation - let me know if you want help with this.
Charleston has a good cafe, so I would suggest travelling down in the morning and having something to eat before the house opens, that way you won't be rushed.
If you took a taxi from Lewes station, take the driver's card, so that you can be picked up to go to Monk's House. This is closer to Lewes, to the south of the town. After Monk's House another taxi back to the station.
Sissinghurst Castle and Garden
Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville West’s house and garden, is home to the first hand press used by Virginia Woolf in the early days of the Hogarth Press.
Vita Sackville West created the Castle and Garden with her husband, Harold Nicolson, between 1930 and 1938. It is now a museum and one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe. Vita’s library and writing room are in the tower overlooking the Garden, which has ten separate and different gardens.
From Sissinghurst, Winchester makes a good stopover on the way to the Isle of Wight. Visit the Cathedral and Jane Austen’s grave. Jane died of Addison’s Disease at 8 College Street in July 1817.
In the morning take in the Keats Walk. It was here that John Keats wrote ‘Ode To Autumn’ and revised ‘The Eve of St Agnes’. Keats was impressed by the neatness of the town writing in August 1819: ‘The side streets here are excessively maiden-lady like’.
Then take the ferry from Portsmouth or Southampton across to the Isle of Wight and to Freshwater Bay.
In 1923 Virginia Woolf wrote her only play, Freshwater, a comedy in three acts, concerning her great aunt, the pioneering photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-79)
Visit Dimbola Lodge, now a museum with photographic exhibitions (and tea rooms!) and nearby Farringford House, Tennyson’s former home, which is now a hotel.
Other things to do include strolling in the famous yachting town of Cowes, visiting Shanklin and Keats’ Cottage, or the wonderfully preserved Victorian town of Bonchurch where Charles Dickens holidayed and wrote parts of David Copperfield (1849-50), and where the poet Algernon Swinburne grew up and is buried.
Cross back to the mainland and head back to London, or continue west to Cornwall and St Ives.
Travel through Hardy country (in Dorset) and on down to the wild and spectacular Cornish coast to visit St Ives, Porthminster Beach, and the Godrevy lighthouse.
From the beach, the distant vision of Godrevy lighthouse was transformed into a potent literary motif in To The Lighthouse.
Talland House was the Stephen family holiday home, where Virginia Woolf (nee Stephen) spent many summers.
‘Probably nothing we had as children was quite so important to us as our summers in Cornwall … to hear the waves breaking … to dig in the sands; to scramble over the rocks and see the anemones flourishing their antennae in the pools’.
In St Ives there are many galleries, including an outpost of the Tate Gallery; the sculptor Barbara Hepworth’s house and studio is also here. Patrick Gale's novel Notes from an exhibition is set in Penzance and St Ives and draws on the artistic heritage of the area.
There are many additional interesting literary trails in Cornwall. For example, visiting sites connected with Daphne Du Maurier or Dylan Thomas, or Winston Graham's Poldark series to name just three.
Please contact us for guiding services or a programme to meet your group's interests and requirements.